Pete Mackanin pulls trigger on closer decision: Joaquin Benoit in, Jeanmar Gomez out

Pete Mackanin pulls trigger on closer decision: Joaquin Benoit in, Jeanmar Gomez out

If the Phillies need a closer Monday night, Joaquin Benoit will get the call.

As expected, manager Pete Mackanin removed Jeanmar Gomez from the role one day after he coughed up a three-run lead in the ninth inning of Sunday's game against the Washington Nationals.

Mackanin said he would use Benoit, a 39-year-old veteran of 16 big-league seasons, "for the time being." In other words, he'll have the role as long as he nails down saves or is traded.

In going with Benoit, Mackanin bypassed Hector Neris, who became a shutdown eighth-inning arm for the Phillies last season.

Neris, 27, will stay in that role.

"I don't want to put any unnecessary pressure on Neris for the time being," Mackanin said. "He had such a good year last year and is pretty valuable where he's at right now. He will most likely close at some point in his career. His time will come."

Benoit has pitched in just about every role there is during his career. He broke in as a starter with the Texas Rangers in 2001, moved full-time to the bullpen in 2006 and was a closer, saving 24 games, for Detroit in 2013.

Looking to improve their bullpen, the Phillies signed Benoit to a one-year, $7.5 million contract in December. Benoit had been one of the most consistent relievers in baseball the previous seven seasons, posting a 2.40 ERA and a .0.98 WHIP from 2010 to 2016. Though he turns 40 in July, Benoit still throws in the mid-90s. He averaged 10 strikeouts per nine innings from 2010 to 2016 and debuted with four strikeouts in his first three innings for the Phillies this season.

Benoit is one of a handful of Phillies players that could be traded as this season unfolds. Teams are always looking for bullpen help around the trade deadline. Pitching well in any bullpen role would help Benoit's value. Racking up a few saves won't hurt.

"I wasn't really expecting it this early, this change," Benoit said. "But it's the situation they have to address. I guess they have their choice and that was me.

"I enjoy being on the mound. I enjoy pitching. I'm not going to break any records. I'm not going to go for Mariano's (Rivera's) record or (Trevor) Hoffman's. I try to give the team an opportunity to get a win. That's what I'm going to try to do here.

"For me I try to make it simple. I'm not trying to make it harder than it is. It's three outs. Sometimes things don't go as well as we want them to. But I approach the game the same way. It doesn't matter if it's in the sixth or the ninth."

Gomez, 29, deserves respect for the job he did last season. When others failed and the Phils were searching to find a dependable closer, he stepped in and recorded 37 saves without the power stuff and high-strikeout octane that most closers possess. His pitch-to-contact style finally caught up with him in September and he lost the closer's job under the weight of an ERA over 19.00 that month.

Coming into spring training this year, Mackanin said Gomez deserved the first crack at the job and he did nothing to lose it in Florida. However, he gave up a two-run home run in the ninth inning on opening day (the Phils survived to win, 4-3) then a three-run homer in squandering a 3-0 lead against Washington on Sunday. The Phils came back to win that game, 4-3, but Mackanin decided it was time to get Gomez out of the pressure cooker. He will likely return to the sixth- and seventh-inning setup role in which he shined in 2015, his first season with the Phillies.

Best of MLB: Royals storm back in 9th inning for win over Blue Jays

Best of MLB: Royals storm back in 9th inning for win over Blue Jays

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Whit Merrifield hit a two-run, two-out double that capped a four-run rally in the ninth inning, and the Kansas City Royals beat the Toronto Blue Jays 5-4 on Friday night to reach .500 for the first time since April.

With their 10th win in 12 games, the Royals improved to 36-36. They were 6-6 before play on April 20, then went on a nine-game losing streak that night and dropped as low as 10-20, seven games out of first place. They trail AL Central-leading Cleveland by three games.

Toronto took a 2-1 lead into the ninth and extended it when Josh Donaldson and Justin Smoak hit RBI singles off Joakim Soria (4-2) (see full recap).

Dodgers cruise past Rockies for 8th straight win
LOS ANGELES -- Yasiel Puig homered and left-hander Alex Wood kept his record perfect as the streaking Los Angeles Dodgers defeated the NL West rival Colorado Rockies 6-1 on Friday night for their eighth consecutive victory.

The Dodgers have won 14 of their last 15 games. They have scored at least six runs in seven consecutive games.

Wood (8-0) allowed one run in six innings. He gave up only three hits and walked two, retiring his last 10 batters.

The Dodgers have homered in 15 consecutive games, tied for fourth-longest streak in club history. The last time they managed it was in 1977. Their record is 24 consecutive games with a home run.

Rookie left-hander Kyle Freeman (8-4) allowed five runs and a career-high 10 hits and three walks in six innings (see full recap).

Torreyes hits walk-off single to lift Yanks over Rangers
NEW YORK -- Ronald Torreyes hit a game-winning single with two outs in the 10th inning after midnight, and the New York Yankees edged the Texas Rangers 2-1 on a rainy Friday night for just their second win in 10 games.

Brett Gardner lined a tying home run with one out in the New York ninth off closer Matt Bush. After Chasen Shreve (2-1) escaped a bases-loaded jam in the top of the 10th, Torreyes kept the Yankees atop the AL East.

Yu Darvish and Masahiro Tanaka kept it scoreless into the late innings in the first major league meeting between the Japanese stars (see full recap).

Mark Leiter Jr. picks up 1st big-league win as Phillies cool off Diamondbacks

Mark Leiter Jr. picks up 1st big-league win as Phillies cool off Diamondbacks


PHOENIX -- The clubhouse was beginning to clear and still the star of the game had not yet emerged from the shower.

"He's in there cleaning the guacamole and mayo out of his hair," Cameron Rupp said with a laugh.

Eventually Mark Leiter Jr. made it out of the shower and over to his locker where equipment man Phil Sheridan presented him with three game balls, souvenirs from not only his first big-league start but his first big-league win, as well.

"It's something I'll never forget," the 26-year-old right-hander from Toms River, N.J., said pitching six shutout innings to backbone the Phillies' 6-1 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field on Friday night (see Instant Replay).

"I’ll be honest, I was probably more excited for this than I was for my major-league debut. To go out there and contribute to a win is what I was hoping to do."

Leiter, a 22nd-round draft pick by the Phillies in 2013, had never made it onto the 40-man roster until the Phils needed a reliever in mid-April and gave him a shot after he'd gotten off to a good start at Triple A. He spent six weeks in the majors and made 12 relief appearances before being sent back to Triple A the first weekend of June.

Leiter worked as a starter during his time back at Triple A. He pitched six shutout innings against Syracuse in his last start and got the call to come back up when Jerad Eickhoff went on the disabled list with a back strain earlier this week.

Leiter's return assignment was not easy: The Diamondbacks are one of the best hitting clubs in the majors and the best on their home turf. They entered the game scoring 6.48 runs per game at home and with an .886 OPS, both major-league bests.

None of that fazed Leiter.

"In my opinion, this is the big leagues and it doesn’t matter who the lineup is," he said. "They all have the ability to hit and hit well. They’re all big-leaguers and they've earned their right to be big-leaguers. I was just trying to pitch to the team you're facing that day."

Leiter trusted his low-90s fastball and commanded it well. He mixed in his secondary stuff and kept the D-backs off-balance with his splitter. He scattered three hits, walked one and struck out five. He showed no fear.

"Great performance," manager Pete Mackanin said. "He made it look easy. He made a lot of good hitters look bad with his split. For him to come up and do that to a real good hitting team was outstanding."

Leiter's dad, Mark Sr., pitched for the Phillies in 1997 and 1998. He made the trip in from New Jersey to watch his son's first big-league start.

"I guess they found him on TV," Leiter said. "That's what they were telling me. I'm sure he wasn't too pleased they found him because he was probably stressed out. But I think it was probably worth him coming out here. He's probably happy."

How could he not be?

Leiter's teammates were definitely happy.

They treated Leiter to a raucous postgame dousing that included as many different condiments as could be found in the clubhouse dining room. One laughing player had a bottle of ketchup in his hands. Another had a squeeze bottle of honey.

And then there was the guacamole and mayo that Rupp mentioned.

"In his first major-league start, to come up here and do that in what is known as a good hitters’ park - that proves Mark is pretty strong between the ears," Tommy Joseph said. "He's been one of those under-the-radar guys that people have doubted, but his mentality and ability to prepare are second to none."

Joseph played a big role in the win, smacking a two-run homer in the ninth inning to give the Phillies some breathing room. Maikel Franco also had a big home run and Freddy Galvis contributed an important triple that led to a Phillies' run in the first inning.

The Phils still have the worst record in the majors at 24-48, but they've won two in a row, both on the back of good starting pitching performances. Aaron Nola pitched 7 1/3 innings of one-run ball on Thursday.

And Leiter delivered on Friday.

"It's good to see those back-to-back," Mackanin said.